Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Joke's On Me

Do you remember the old joke, "Why did the little boy hit himself in the head with a hammer?" "Because it felt so good when he stopped." I remember hearing this as a child and thinking how stupid it was. Now that I have grown out of my literalist phase the joke doesn't seem stupid at all.

This particular trip down memory lane is brought to you by the good folks at, well, let's just say I attended a church meeting last night. It had been a couple weeks, and I had forgotten my primary defense mechanism, which is trying not to care. If you don't care about the outcome of a church meeting you're much less likely to wind up awake at 3 a.m., verbally shadow boxing with the committee members with whom you wasted an evening.

All of my idealism about churches should have been rubbed off in my stint as a newly ordained pastor in Evansville, Indiana. Like most churches I have come to know, my first parish comprised many lovely people who underwent radical transformations whenever a meeting was called to order. In this they were very much like the cuddly mogwai who were transmuted into demonic creatures in the Gremlins movies. This alchemy was accomplished, not by feeding them after midnight as in the movie, but simply by asking, "Is there anything to add to the agenda?"

Long before my emotional wounds were sufficiently healed to exhibit the cynical scar tissue I now bear, I complained to my Conference Minister father. I found ministry to be brutal, and told him so. He patiently sought to allay my fears, sharing stories of ministers who had made an incredible difference in the lives of others without even being aware that progress was occurring. I now think he made those stories up. My mother might have thought so as well. In response to my complaint about Dad's incessant encouragement, she said, "Perhaps he's forgotten about the times that he returned home after Church Consistory meetings, went into the bathroom and threw up." Mom hadn't forgotten.

And I shouldn't have forgotten that story. But there I was again at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, as I have so many times before. In the gray light of the new morning it all falls into perspective: "Why did that boy hit himself in the head with a hammer...."

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